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Thailand's Red Shirts protest with their own blood

Fears of violence grow as democracy campaigners resort to Khmer black magic ritual designed to curse the leadership.

A supporter of the deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra holds a syringe full of blood after making a donation at a protest site in Bangkok yesterday.
A supporter of the deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra holds a syringe full of blood after making a donation at a protest site in Bangkok yesterday.

BANGKOK // Protest organisers splashed gallons of blood on the streets around Government House - the seat of the Thai administration and parliament - yesterday as the political stand-off between the government and thousands of Red Shirt supporters continued.

The organisers, members of the United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), splashed the blood donated by protesters in an unusual symbolic act of protest against the government. More than 100,000 Red Shirts occupy parts of central Bangkok and threaten to extend their protests until the government resigns. The prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, remains defiant, insisting that he will not be intimidated. But amid increased military security around key parts of the capital city, there are growing fears of violence erupting.

"It is meant to shame the politicians and awake the people of Bangkok to the real cause of the country's political problems," said Sean Boonpracong, a Red Shirt spokesman. Thousands of demonstrators donated blood for protest. "This blood is a sacrificial offering. To show our love for the nation, to show our sincerity," the UDD leader Veera Musikhapong told the crowd. Another leading UDD member, Natthawut Saikuar, said: "We are ready to sacrifice our blood and lives to bring back democracy and bring down the bureaucratic elite. We'll then know that the red-shirts' blood is warm, while prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's blood is cold".

According to Thai astrologers, the splashing of blood is a Khmer [Cambodian] black magic ritual and protesters are trying to curse the government. Many of the Red Shirt followers are superstitious, coming from the country's rural north-east. The Red Shirts, who are also members of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), are mainly supporters of the former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a military coup in 2006. They had vowed to bring a million supporters onto the city's streets after Thailand's top court confiscated US$1.4 billion (Dh5.1bn) of Mr Thaksin's frozen assets, more than two weeks ago.

They accuse Mr Vejjajiva's government of being elitist, backed by the military and of coming to power undemocratically. With both sides holding their ground, there seems no end to this political deadlock. Having massed the biggest protest in the streets of Bangkok for nearly two decades, the Red Shirts, who owe their name to the colour of their clothes, are not likely to retreat quickly. On Sunday, the key day of the demonstration, there were more than 200,000 of them on the streets - though the protest organisers boasted that more than half-a-million people had come.

"We have won politically," said Jaran Ditapichai, a UDD leader and one of the protest organisers. "But the battle is not over yet. "We have a Thai-style dictatorship here. It's social oppression - social mechanisms, like the lack of education, are used to coerce and dominate the lower classes." The stage is set for further protests in the coming days. Mr Jaran said the government has two options - suppress the protests or dissolve parliament.

The prime minister is adamant he is not stepping down. "Elections must be held under common rules and genuine calm. We have to listen to other people's voices, not just the protesters," he said in a televised address on Monday. "Elections are the only way to solve the problem," Sudsanguan, a Red Shirt supporter at the rally and a professor at Thammasat University, said. But she insisted she was not a Thaksin supporter.

"Mr Thaksin's treatment at the hands of the country's elite highlights the problems in this country. He was treated unjustly - first thrown out by a military coup and then stripped of his wealth by an unfair court." Most people at the protest voiced similar concerns. "There are double standards everywhere," said Niratchai Sunthonsak, a 22-year-old college student and single mother. "What happened to Thaksin is what happens to us all the time. That's why we want democracy."

Analysts say that the deadlock will remain as long as people's frustrations are left unresolved. "Everyone, especially in the north and north-east has an individual tale to tell of double standards and injustice," said Kevin Hewison, a Thai expert at the University of North Carolina. Most of the country's poor simply want democracy, said Suda Rangkupan, a linguistics teacher at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok and a Red Shirt supporter. "That would put an end to the small group [the elite] who are controlling the country," she said.

The Red Shirt movement has mobilised poor people throughout Thailand and given them focus, Prof Suda said. "They understand injustice and now actively want to see an end to it," she said. Many Red Shirt leaders are now calling for a revolutionary transformation of the country. "Democracy is not elections," said Mr Jaran. "We must change Thailand completely." Though the calling of elections would likely see at least a temporary end to the protests, analysts said.

"If there were free and fair elections, and the Democrats [who lead the current government] won, we would respect the result," said a leading Red Shirt, Weng Tojirakan. Mr Jaran agreed. "After elections, we would have a rest for three months at least," he said. @Email:foreign.desk@thenational.ae